People with disabilities ‘impacted disproportionately’ by pandemic – study

Nilima Marshall, PA Science Reporter
·2-min read

Older people in England with physical disabilities were more lonely and anxious and experienced greater increases in depression during the Covid-19 pandemic than able-bodied people, according to research.

The study published in The Lancet Public Health also suggested that those with disability had lower levels of social contact and experienced poorer quality of life and sleep than those without.

Experts from University College London (UCL) said their findings revealed “disproportional impact on people with disabilities” during the pandemic and called for more support for vulnerable groups.

Study co-author Dr Giorgio Di Gessa, of UCL’s department of epidemiology and public health, said: “We already know that people with disabilities tend to have poorer mental health than non-disabled people.

“But we were able to show that their distress was greater during the Covid-19 pandemic, even when pre-pandemic differences were taken into account.

“Our findings indicate that more attention needs to be paid to emotional and social outcomes for disabled people and emphasises the importance of supporting them during and after periods of epidemic illness and enforced social isolation.

“As we come out of the pandemic, it’s vital that these neglected groups receive special attention to not only address their physical needs but also attend to the disproportionate emotional consequences that the pandemic has had on them.

“It’s crucial that health and social care providers are able to put care packages in place both during and after the pandemic that take into account the importance of maintaining well-being in this vulnerable sector of society.”

Scientists analysed data from 4,887 people aged 52 years and older living in England, collected in 2018/19 and June to July 2020.

They looked at whether the participants had difficulties with activities of daily living (ADL disability), such as dressing or bathing, as well as impaired mobility, while mental health was assessed online or by computer-assisted telephone interviews.

Results showed that around 29% of those surveyed who had a disability had had significant depressive symptoms during the early stages of the pandemic, compared to 16% of those without a disability.

Almost 16% of people with ADL disability reported significant anxiety symptoms, compared to 7% of able-bodied people.

And around 46% of people with ADL and mobility disability reported disturbed sleep, compared to 39% of participants without disability.

The researchers also found that those with a disability were more likely to be socially isolated, with less social contact with friends and family.

Shielding was also found to have an impact on levels of loneliness, with people with disabilities more likely to have been instructed to shield.